The Devil’s Falls
by Sylvia A. Winters
I was going through my documents today and, although most of them were half-finished stories or confusing notes, I found this thing, and I’m probably not going to do anything with it so I thought I’d pop it up here for anyone interested.
Word Count: 2,300
Genre: Horror, M/M
Summary: It’s getting late, but when Elian bumps into a stranger, he finds himself reluctant to leave, despite the superstitions surrounding the falls. As darkness settles in, those superstitions begin to seem less and less like stories.
The light is fading, but it’s still enough that Elian can see the sloping ridges of damp rock in front of him, the lines of the hollowed-out cave once used as a hide-out for three highway robbers.
He’s perched precariously on a wooden fence, designed to keep tourists and ramblers from slipping and falling over the steep edge into the river below. One leg is tucked under the other, the sketchbook resting in his lap, left hand holding it steady while the pencil in his right makes swift, darting movements over the page. His tongue pokes out between his teeth in concentration.
It’s quiet here, the summer drawing to a close. The only sound is the rush of the falls and birds twittering to one another, trying to make themselves heard over the flow of the water.
It’s one of Elian’s favourite places, has been ever since he was a kid, coming to visit his grandparents in a nearby village. They’d drive over the bridge and his mother would tell them to wave to the devil. It had become a game between him and his brother, tempting fate and poking their tongues out instead, daring the devil to come and get them.
He hasn’t been back for a while, not since his grandmother died over three years ago. There hasn’t been much reason to visit since then. The family trips stopped and Elian found himself missing the place, the steep climbs and descents, the ethereal feeling that something might be watching him; the ghosts of highwaymen or the devil himself, bitter at being outwitted and still waiting to claim a human soul.
The sky is mostly purple now, and Elian slides off the railings, closing his sketchbook and tucking it into his backpack. He’d rather stay, and there’s still light left, but if he doesn’t leave now he’ll probably trip on something trying to get out and end up lying in the mud all night with a broken leg.
He takes one last look back at the cave, trying to picture what it would have been like before it was dug out, back when it was a hide-out and full of stolen riches, two brothers and their sister counting their takings by candlelight. He doesn’t notice someone standing behind him until he turns around and smacks straight into them.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” he breathes, stepping hastily back and taking a look at the stranger. He’s good-looking, and that probably shouldn’t be Elian’s first thought, but he has the whole stubbled, square jaw thing going on, dark, messy hair and green eyes, clear even in the half-light of late evening. His nose has an odd bump in the middle, like it might have been broken once, and Elian wants to reach out and run his fingers over it.
The man grins and rubs his shoulder. “No harm done,” he tells him, before pulling a packet of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket. It’s a nice jacket, Elian notices, short, black leather, fashionable, thinner and probably cleaner than a traditional biker’s jacket.
The man offers out the packet and Elian, who doesn’t normally smoke, takes one and thanks him.
“I’m Mel,” he introduces himself. “Didn’t expect anyone around at this time.”
“I was just leaving,” Elian shrugs, and then, because he can’t help himself, “Mel? Isn’t that usually a girl’s name?”
The guy smiles and ugh, he must have been asked that a billion times in his life already. “It’s short for Melvyn.”
Elian holds back a snigger. For a guy that seems to ooze cool, he definitely has a very uncool name, but then again, Elian supposes he can’t exactly criticise.
“I’m Elian,” he offers, leaning in as Mel holds up his zippo and lights the cigarette for him. He catches the scent of Mel’s aftershave, warm and heady beneath the cigarette smoke.
“It’s a beautiful place, this,” Mel says, leaning over the railing and watching the water cascade over the fall and into the river. A bat flitters down and across, disappearing back into the trees. “There are so many beautiful places around here.”
Elian takes a drag of his cigarette, blows smoke out around them and nods silently in reply.
“You live around here, then?” Mel asks, obviously trying to make conversation.
Elian shakes his head. “I’m from Cardiff. Just taking a break really, thought I’d do some sketching, take some photographs, that kind of thing.”
“An artist, eh?” Mel says, a teasing note to his words. “I’m honoured.”
Elian laughs. “A pretty crappy artist, if I’m honest, but I enjoy it.”
Mel looks at him, eyes seeming to rove over Elian’s body, drinking him in, examining him, as if trying to figure something out. It’s intense, the way this guy looks at him, almost predatory, and he feels suddenly uncomfortable, his body torn between leaning in and pulling away.
He’s about to make his excuses when Mel grabs his arm. “Take my photograph,” he says, and Elian is very aware that he isn’t being asked, he’s being told. He swallows nervously, nods and shucks off his backpack, delving into it and pulling out his camera.
Mel grins, drags on his cigarette and leans back on his elbows. He blows smoke back out just as the camera shutters and the resulting photo is just a haze of smoke. He takes another, and this time it should be clear, but his stupid camera isn’t working properly, because Mel’s face is just a blur. Mel leans forward, and Elian concentrates, clicks. This time the photo is better; Mel is there, leaning in as though he’s about to whisper a secret, but his face is still distorted, as though he’d moved quickly. But Elian had been watching, and Mel hadn’t moved, and he’s pretty sure his hands were steady. Elian grimaces, suppresses a shudder. “Sorry, my camera’s being kinda crappy,” he says.
Mel grins. “The camera’s fine. I just don’t photograph well.”
Elian frowns. “You always look like that in pictures?”
“Pretty much,” he stubs out the cigarette and tosses it into the river. “Do you think I’m a vampire?”
Elian laughs. “No, I don’t think you’re a vampire,” he says. Okay, so the thought had crossed his mind, after all it’s getting dark and this place is full of superstitions, but really? He isn’t 12 anymore, and vampires are just scary bedtime stories or sickening teen romances.
“Good, because I’m not,” Mel nudges him with his shoulder and grins.
It’s almost completely dark now, and Elian wonders briefly how they’re going to get back up to the road without breaking their necks. It’s a cloudless night, the stars clear and the moon shining. In the open, he can see okay, but as soon as they get into the more wooded parts, they’re going to be as good as blind.
“It’s getting late,” Elian says, “I should probably head back.” He looks questioningly at Mel, waiting to see if he’ll decide to follow him.
Mel glances up the path and then pulls the packet of cigarettes back out of his pocket. “Bit late to be wandering around here now, isn’t it? Have another one with me and I’ll join you.”
“Oh, go on,” Mel elbows him gently. “All I ask for in return is your soul.”
Elian laughs at that and takes the cigarette offered, the end of it glinting orange in the dark.
“The thing about this place,” Mel says, softly enough that Elian has to strain to hear him. “Is that nobody takes it seriously. It’s beautiful, breathtaking, even. But with a name like ‘The Devil’s Falls’, it’s all just sensational, a quaint superstition. Nobody ever thinks there might really be something to it.”
Elian thinks about it, and he supposes that’s true enough. After all, who would really think the devil lived down here, in this day and age? He’d stopped believing such things when he was ten years old. “Do you … Do you believe in that then?” he asks tentatively,
“Oh yes, I believe it,” Mel replies, and Elian raises his eyebrows at that. He hadn’t taken Mel for the religious or superstitious type at all, but then, he supposes, first impressions and all that. “The devil came here once, and he built the bridge up there, hoping to claim the soul of an old woman who needed to cross it to find her lost cow. But he was tricked by her and got only the soul of a stupid dog instead. The legend goes that the devil left that same night, angry and bitter about being tricked. But he didn’t leave at all, he stayed. He stayed and he got that woman’s soul in the end, because just like everyone else, she was greedy and too sure of herself. She’d tricked the devil once and she thought she could do it again. He liked it here, and he stayed. I guess you could call this place his holiday cottage.”
Elian draws heavily on the cigarette and tries to ignore the way the shadows seem longer, more menacing. “So, what? He hangs out here on his weekends off?”
Mel laughs. “Something like that.”
Elian smiles nervously, drops the cigarette to the ground and stubs it out with the toe of his boot. “So, we going?” he asks.
Mel shakes his head slowly. “No, we’re not,” he says.
Elian bites back on his frustration and turns on his heel. “Alright,” he says, “See you around then.”
“Are you always like this?” Mel calls out after him, and for a moment Elian thinks he can just pretend not to have heard and just keep walking, but something stops him. He turns, sighing.
“Like what?” he asks.
“Stupid,” Mel replies.
“Stupid?” Elian repeats, unsure whether he heard right or not, because really, what is this guy’s problem?
Mel takes a few steps towards him and stops a couple of feet away. The lack of light makes his eyes look black in his pale face. “Poor Elian,” he says, so patronising that Elian has to fight the urge to punch him. This guy is rapidly becoming unbearable. “You still don’t understand.”
“Please,” Elian snaps. “Enlighten me.”
“You took the cigarette, Elian. You can’t leave now.”
“Oh for the love of …” Elian rolls his eyes and turns away, marching off in what he hopes is the direction of Jacob’s Ladder—it’s not the quickest way back to the road, but he doesn’t care as long it’s in the opposite direction to Melvyn.
Mel doesn’t try to follow him, and he glances over his shoulder a couple of times to make sure of it. He’ll have to be more careful about who he starts conversations with in the future, because that one was just a bit too weird for his liking.
He begins to feel a little better when he reaches the metal bridge. It’s something familiar, even in the dark and it stands out clearly. Why the hell did he wait so long before leaving? Stupid weird hot guy and his cigarettes.
“Hey!” A voice calls, and Elian knows before he turns that it’s Mel, that he’s caught up.
He fights the impulse to just leg it over the bridge and away. “What do you want?” he calls back.
“I’m sorry I said you were stupid,” Mel breathes, sounding as though he’s been running. He’s close enough now that Elian can smell his aftershave again, overlain with smoke that clings to his clothes and skin.
Elian shrugs. “‘Sokay,” he mumbles.
“No,” Mel says quietly. “It’s not. I’m sorry, sometimes I make stupid jokes like that without realising they can be hurtful.”
Elian smiles then, relieved that Mel is just insensitive rather some kind of creepy serial killer. “It’s okay,” he says again. “Really.”
“Good,” Mel says, stepping forward into Elian’s personal space. “Because really, I just wanted you to like me.”
“I like you,” Elian says, realising that actually, it’s not a complete lie. Mel’s weird and he creeped him out a bit back there, but he also caught up to apologise and most people just wouldn’t bother with something like that.
“Yeah?” Mel’s breath is hot against Elian’s face, just a few inches between them now.
“Yeah,” Elian whispers as he steps forward to press their mouths together in a kiss.
Mel wraps his hands tightly around Elian’s upper arms, holding him in place as he claims Elian’s mouth with his tongue, and for a few moments, Elian wonders how he got here, in this place after dark, smoking cigarettes and kissing a complete stranger, but his body leads and when Mel pulls back, Elian can only lean forward, chasing more kisses.
There’s a grin curling the corners of Mel’s mouth. Elian slips a hand around his waist, tugs him closer and nuzzles at his jaw, teeth scraping along the stubble as Mel pushes him back against the edge of the bridge.
“Sorry, El,” Mel whispers against his skin, and it takes a while for the words to process. “But I told you, you can’t leave here.”
And then Mel’s hands are at his throat, and Elian can’t breathe, can barely move, pinned under his weight. His hands scrabble at Mel’s jacket, trying to go for the face but without enough room to manoeuvre. He tries to gasp in air but gets nothing, Mel’s fingers digging into his windpipe and blocking the flow. He kicks out, hears Mel groan and he kicks again, but Mel doesn’t back off and the bridge is spinning under him, slipping away.
When he comes to he’s freezing, huddled in soaking wet clothes at the edge of the river bank. There’s a body in the water, jacket hooked on a tree root that keeps it from floating downstream. Elian doesn’t dare turn it over, because he knows that he’ll see his own face on that body, grey and wet and bloating.
He looks up at the bridge, where Mel is smiling down at him and smoking another cigarette, the sun rising behind him, and he knows now, he’s never going to leave this place.